There are multiple ways to frame power dynamics in the workplace; here are three related questions that will help you negotiate more effectively.
Power dynamics are a part of every organization—and every negotiation. There are multiple sources of power: rank and position, as flagged by a person’s title; access to resources, including time, budgets and information; and personal power, including how well you influence others and what you say as an opinion leader.
There are also different ways of framing power. Typically, we think of power as “power over” someone else—getting other people to do things they wouldn’t have done on their own. Often, there are negative associations with this type of power, as it’s equated with coercion, manipulation and abuse.
But power can also be “power with” someone else. You’re only as strong as the people around you, so you want them to be the best they can be. This type of power is especially evident within a team.
A third type of power is “independent power,” where people derive a sense of power from being autonomous and able to accomplish goals on their own.
A fourth type is “dependent power,” where those in lower power positions follow their leader because of the implicit promise that the leader will take care of them. An example of this are leaders who champion employees’ career advancement and professional development.
Power Influences Every Interaction and Negotiation
When you interact with others professionally, the power dynamic that’s at play becomes critical. There are different strategies and tactics you can apply depending on the strength of your power relative to the other party. Let’s look at three questions that inform which strategies you’ll use to greatest effect.
Are your goals aligned with the other party’s? What are your short- and long-term goals for the negotiation? It may sound strange, but very often, what you want to achieve in a particular negotiation is limited to the scope of that negotiation. The goals don’t apply to what might happen beyond that.
Once you clarify your own goals, ascertain the other party’s goals and check for alignment. You may think the other party’s goals aren’t compatible because that’s how you perceive them. But on further inspection, you might see some overlap, which will strengthen the collaboration during the negotiation.
Who holds the power? If you’re in a higher position of power and your goals are aligned with the other party’s, it’s in your best interest to work with your negotiating partner. If you’re in a lower power position and your goals are aligned, you’ll want to promote your value so you remain included in the negotiation.
However, if your goals aren’t aligned, you’ll want to make sure the person in power sees you as valuable and wants to keep you engaged. If your goals aren’t aligned, but you hold the power in the negotiation, you’ll want to decrease your dependence on those in lower power positions.
- How important is the relationship? Negotiations take time. If you designate your negotiating partner as an important relationship, you’ll muster up the time, energy and focus to engage. The same applies to your negotiating partner.
If you and the other party don’t see eye to eye on this point, look at the broader scope of the negotiation, the value each party brings, and the ways developing the relationship will be worth everyone’s time.
There will almost always be power asymmetry in any negotiation. If we can begin framing who we are in relation to our negotiating partner, check to see if our goals are aligned, determine the power dynamics at play, and see how important others are to attaining our goals, we can come up with a plan that will make our negotiations more successful and worth the effort.
Beth Fisher-Yoshida, Ph.D., CCS, is a global expert and educator in negotiation and communication. She’s the program director of Columbia University’s Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, a negotiation consultant for the United Nations, and the CEO of the consulting agency Fisher Yoshida International. Her new book, New Story, New Power: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiation, helps women of all ages make successful negotiations a reality. Learn more at bethfisheryoshida.com.